Food Alone: How to Braise Lamb for One

I made this one up myself…

My food co-op now sells hunks of lamb sirloin in less than 1/2 pound servings. Ever since I discovered the delectable joys of overcooked lamb braised in white wine — that’s what it amounts to, frankly — I grab any chance I get to cook lamb in portions that are affordable and sensible for me.

Let me be clear. I adore lamb grilled only so long enough that it takes the intensity off its rare fuschia coloring. The flavor of lamb is really at its best minimally cooked with a minimum of herbs. But the French know what they are doing when they braise a leg of lamb FOREVER in white wine, carrots and leeks. The combination of lamb and white wine is one of the most neglected forms of alchemy I can think of. Lamb braised until the connective tissues dissolve is heaven.

But can one attain heaven on one’s own? That is my perennial dilemma. The availability of chunks of lamb leg means that I can accomplish on a small scale what I’ve only ever achieved with a whole leg.

6-8 oz lamb sirloin

olive oil

Ras el-hanout (spice mixture)

one carrot, diced

one leek, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced crosswise

half a bottle of decent white wine (not a heavy malolactic chardonnay)

one bunch of collard greens, stem removed, chopped

Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325. Pour a slug of oil into a heavy bottomed pan that is ovenproof and heat over mediu-high heat. Sprinkle 1-2 tsps of the spice mixture, ras el-hanout, and salt over the meat on both side. When the oil is hot, sear the meat in the oil, about 3 mins per side. Remove to a plate. Add the carrots and leeks to the oil in the pot. If needed, add more olive oil. Sauté the vegetables until soft, about 5 to 8 mins. Place the seared lamb on top of the carrots and leeks. Pour in about half a bottle of white wine. The liquid should come about a third to  halfway up the side of the meat. When the wine comes to a boil, cover with aluminum foil and the place the pot in the preheated oven. Set the timer for 45 mins.

Meanwhile, prepare the collard greens. Chop the de-stemmed greens. Put a pot of heavily salted water on to boil. Drop the chopped greens into boiling water and blanch for 5 mins. Drain, put the greens in a single serving dish and place it in the oven until the lamb is done.

Check the liquid in the lamb pot after 45 mins. If the wine is mostly evaporated, add more. When an hour has nearly passed, check the lamb again. The meat should be at the point of falling apart. Remove the pot from the oven, place the meat on a cutting board. Slice or shred with fork. Taste the sauce with vegetables in the pot and adjust the seasoning. Place the lamb on the collard greens and pour the sauce with vegetables over the lamb. Don’t burn yourself as you carry the plate to the table and eat.

Bruce Aidells and Joe Nouhan’s Warm Lamb Salad

The Complete Meat Cookbook, pp. 525-26.

I came home from Europe flattened by a cold and ready for spring. While I was gone, my new vegetable garden took shape. I’m itching to get out there and plant, but for the past week my head and my lungs have battled to expel so much gunk that I could barely drag myself out to the deck to gaze over my rapidly developing urban farm. So, the time has not yet come to abandon wintery food.

I defrosted the lamb tongues my sheep-raising friends gave me before I left for Europe. In Aidells’ indispensable book, I found a recipe that recalled to my mind a lamb tongue salad I once had at the incomparable Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. After I had it for dinner, I thought it fell short of what it could have been. Hearty, but bland. What should I do next time? Make the dressing slightly creamy with mustard? More lemon? The Bistro Jeanty version incorporated the crunchy leaves of butter lettuce hearts.  This version could stand more crunch. I’ll have to think about it. Suggestions welcome.

The recipe comes in three parts:

1 lb lamb tongues or a 1-lb piece of lean, boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of all fat.

Shadowcook: I had 6 lambs tongues that together weighed a pound and a half. They did not amount a lot of meat.

1 medium onion, unpeeled, split in half

2 bay leaves

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 carrot, unpeeled, cut in half lengthwise

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons salt

Shadowcook: Or two heaping teaspoons kosher salt. But the entire recipe needed far more salt than called for.

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 cups water or chicken stock

To prepare the lamb: Wash the meat and place in a large kettle with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover. Simmer lamb tongues for 2 to 3 hours, shoulder for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is quite tender. Remove the meat, discard the vegetables, and let the meat cool, covered in the stock. Save the stock for soup.

When the tongues are cool enough to handle, make a long slit starting from the base. With your fingers, peel away the skin. Or tim the shoulder of any fat or gristle.

Cut the meat into 1/4-inch-thick sliced and reserve.

Shadowcook: Two hours were sufficient to make the six tongues very tender. I removed the tongues from the stock, let them cool for a few minutes, and then peeled them. The warmer they are, the easier they are to peel. After slicing them up, I put them in a bowl and poured some of the still hot stock over the meat to keep it warm.

Salad Dressing:

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl or pulse briefly in a food processor.

Salad assembly:

3 cups cubed, cooked red potatoes

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, packed

4 green onions, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently toss the meat, potatoes, parsley, and green onions with the dressing, preferably while the lamb and potatoes are still slightly warm. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at once.

Fergus Henderson: Lamb’s Tongues, Turnips, and Bacon

DSC05235

from The Whole Beast, pp. 94-95.

The bite in the morning air gives me license to start cooking with autumn in mind. When my friends delivered another cut-and-wrapped whole lamb, they handed me two baggies holding eight lamb tongues — precious cargo. Fergus Henderson’s cookbook seemed the logical place to look for a recipe that would do justice to the freshness and succulence of the tongues. I wasn’t wrong. His directions are not as transparent as I had hoped. Still, I was enchanted by this lamb tongue version of pot-au-feu. The bitter flavor of the turnips, borrowing depth from the kale, blended softly with the sweetness of the meat and the roasted shallots. And the flavor of bacon formed a sturdy canopy over the whole ensemble. Delicious broth. It would be even more restorative if I had waited about two months more to make it.

To serve four:

6 lamb’s tongues (give them a rinse with cold water)

Shadowcook: For those cooks who live an metropolitan areas, lamb tongues are easier to find than you might think. Find a halal or Middle Eastern grocery and look in their freezer section.

7 cups chicken stock

1 head of garlic, separated and peeled

a bundle of fresh thyme and parsley tied together

6 young turnips with healthy greens chopped off but kept (if no greens, rocket [arugula] makes a good substitute, or if you want something with more body, curle kale is delicious in this dish)

Shadowcook: I don’t know what large or small turnips in the UK usually are, but here I see only really big ones. I used three, peeled and cut into chunks. And to replace the turnip greens I added lacinato (otherwise known as dino or Tuscan) kale, stems cut out and chopped coarsely.

2 dollops of duck fat or unsalted butter

Shadowcook: Yea! I finally get to use my duck fat! Worth it, too.

16 shallots, peeled and left whole

1 1/4 pound piece of smoked streaky bacon, skinned and cut into chunks

Shadowcook: If you can’t find unsliced bacon, consider pancetta, although the spices might not suit the dish. I bought sliced bacon and found a pound and a quarter almost too much. Next time, I intend to use bacon or pancetta (with the spices wiped off) in chunks.

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

Step one

In a pot cover the lamb’s tongues with the chicken stock. Add the garlic and herbs, bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for approximately 2 hours, until the tongues are giving. Remove the tongues and allow to cool, just to a handleable temperature as they are much easier to peel when warm. While doing this cook your turnips in the stock.

Shadowcook: If the turnips are large, cut them into chunks. And peel the tongues are soon as possible once they are out of the stock. It’s true they are easier to peel when warm.

When cooked remove the turnips from the stock, take it off the heat, and return the peeled tongues to the cooling stock.

Step two

In an ovenproof frying pan, melt the duck fat or butter and fry the shallots just enough to color them, not burn them. Then pop them into a medium to hot 375 degree oven to roast for 15 minutes, again watching that they do not burn. When soft, sweet, and giving, remove them from the oven.

Now remove the tongues from the stock and slice them in half lengthwise.

Shadowcook: At this point, even though Fergus doesn’t call for it, strain the stock. That’s the one step I wish I had done when I ate the dish at the end of the process.

Heat a deep frying pan that has a lid, or a shallow saucepan. Melt a spot of duck fat, fry the bacon in this so as to slightly color it, add the tongue and turnips, allow these to color it, add the tongue and turnips, all these to color, then add the shallots and a healthy splash of the stock to half-cover the pan’s contents.

Shadowcook: At this point, the recipe becomes a bit imprecise. First of all, I had to use my big Le Creuset pot. The ingredients amount to more than any deep drying pan or saucepan I own can hold. It’s just too much. Which explains why my version turns out more like pot-au-feu than Fergus perhaps intended. I recommend using as much of the stock as comes half way up the ingredients and saving the rest for the next day when you eat the leftovers. The stock is too tasty to toss out.

Let this start to boil, add the greens and season with salt and pepper, then cover the pan and turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove the ingredients to a hot deep plate, then ladle some of the liquor in the pan over, making it as dry or as brothy as you wish. Just before eating sprinkle the dish with a little vinegar.

Just as delicious, if not more so, is to substitute fava beans for the turnips (these do not need to be cooked before the final stage). You still need the rocket or kale as the greens act as a structural weave in the dish.